Forest height affects climate change

Map of forest height helps to understand role of forests in climate change

PASADENA, Calif | February 21, 2012

" forest height is an integral characteristic of Earth's habitats"

—Marc Simard

NASA says its scientists have helped create an accurate map of the height of Earth's forests to help better understand the role forests play in climate change.

The high-resolution map will also help researchers study how a forest's height influences wildlife habitats within it, while also helping them quantify the carbon stored in Earth's vegetation, a NASA release said.

The map was created by scientists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., the University of Maryland and the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, using 2.5 million carefully screened, globally distributed laser pulse measurements from space.

"Knowing the height of Earth's forests is critical to estimating their biomass, or the amount of carbon they contain," lead researcher Marc Simard of JPL said. "Our map can be used to improve global efforts to monitor carbon.

"In addition, forest height is an integral characteristic of Earth's habitats, yet is poorly measured globally, so our results will also benefit studies of the varieties of life that are found in particular parts of the forest or habitats."

The map shows that, in general, forest heights decrease at higher elevations and are highest at low latitudes, decreasing in height the farther they are from the tropics.

The light detection and ranging data (lidar) generating the map was collected in 2005 by the Geoscience Laser Altimeter System instrument on NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite.

"This study demonstrates the tremendous potential that spaceborne lidar holds for revealing new information about Earth's forests," Simard said. "However, to monitor the long-term health of Earth's forests and other ecosystems, new Earth observing satellites will be needed."

2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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